It’s impossible to shut down the kind of attacking talent possessed by Real Madrid — Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, James Rodriguez, Isco, and on and on. In cliched truth, you can’t stop them, you can only hope to contain them.
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Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri was well aware of this ahead of Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League semifinal second leg, and the first-year Juve boss had just the tactical planned aimed at slowing down Real’s multi-faceted attacking unit — Allegri is, after all, Italian; of course he came prepared with a brilliant defensive gameplan.
According to Allegri, it was as simple as picking the weakest of Real’s incredibly strong links, and forcing them — in this case, Isco and Rodriguez — into the kind of defensive work for which they’re simply not known.
Allegri, via ESPN FC:
“I knew the game would go like this tonight. I told the lads they needed courage and to play well technically.
“I think it is also important for Italian football that one of our teams is back in the Champions League final.
“Isco and Rodriguez aren’t particularly strong defensively, so I told my players the more we push them towards their own goal, the better.”
In many ways, it was always going to be Real’s undoing at some point this season: having too many truly amazing attacking players — particularly in the midfield — on the field at the same time, and not enough balance between the attack and defense. Isco and Rodriguez, played alongside Toni Kroos in a midfield three, simply doesn’t offer enough bite in the center of the park to combat the likes of Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal.
It worked for much of the season, but failed Los Blancos at the most crucial of times. Again, you’re never going to shut down Real Madrid going forward, but Allegri showed on Wednesday that defending intelligently — rather than desperately or with full numbers behind the ball — can do just enough to slow them down and set up a club’s biggest night in 12 years (2003 Champions League final).
Now, the final, versus Barcelona? That’s somehow, going to be a completely different level of difficult.